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East Timor President Threatens to Resign


East Timor President Xanana Gusmao has increased the pressure on his political rival, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, threatening to resign if Mr. Alkatiri refuses a call to step down. Mr. Gusmao, the country's revolutionary hero, issued the threat after the ruling party refused to support the call for the prime minister's resignation.

President Xanana Gusmao says he will submit his resignation to parliament on Friday unless Mari Alkatiri relinquishes his role as the country's prime minister.

The political brinksmanship follows an outbreak of violence in East Timor's capital, Dili, last month. Twenty-one people were killed during street battles between rival factions, and tens of thousands fled the chaos.

Mr. Gusmao says Mr. Alkatiri may have the helped rebel groups who are blamed for starting the violence, and earlier this week called for his resignation.

Haryadi Wiryawan, head of Department of International Relations at the University of Indonesia, says violence between East Timor's rival factions would erupt again if Mr. Gusmao followed through with his threat.

"If he did so, if he did resign, then the country would be plunged into really a turmoil," Wiryawan said. "It would be chaos. Either the elite, which doesn't really like to see Mari hang on to power, will do something to ensure that he will resign. But it will be very difficult for the country to be reunited."

On Thursday, the ruling Fretilin Party refused to support Mr. Gusmao's call for Mr. Alkatiri's resignation.

Later in the day, in a report by the Portuguese news agency LUSA, Mr. Alkatiri was quoted as saying he would not step down.

But Professor Wiryawan says President Gusmao's stature could be decisive in the political battle between the two men.

"Xanana is a very respected leader of the country," Wiryawan said. "And it also proves that the pressure on Mari to resign is a very serious one. I don't see that as reason for Mari to resist this pressure."

Mr. Alkatiri came under criticism last month after he fired 600 military personnel who claimed they were discriminated against. One of the disaffected soldiers, a former resistance fighter, has since implicated the prime minister in a plot to assassinate political opponents.